Yesterday’s press release highlights Clemson University’s recent decision to temporarily abandon its “free speech zone” policy, encoded within the Sales and Solicitation Policy, which quarantines student assembly to Cox Plaza and Hendrix Plaza, two areas of Clemson’s vast campus.
The Clemson Conservatives student group waged war against the “free speech zone” after they were prohibited from protesting the Clemson Gay-Straight Alliance’s (CSGA’s) rally in support of gay marriage. The Conservatives oppose gay marriage and wanted to protest the CSGA’s efforts in front of the CSGA meeting in Daniel Auditorium—an area outside the “free speech zone.” Despite being denied permission to protest in that space, the Conservatives held their protest there anyway on October 30, and were soon thereafter found guilty of holding a protest in a “non-designated area” and received a “censure” and “admonition.” Clemson’s Office of Judicial Conduct also said that further violations of the Sales and Solicitation policy could result in the group’s suspension.
Clemson Conservatives Chairman Andrew Davis contacted FIRE for help in fighting the “free speech zones,” and on November 13, FIRE wrote a letter to Clemson President James F. Baker. Although Clemson has not yet responded to our letter, on November 16, Dean of Students Gail DiSabatino issued an e-mail to approximately ten students and faculty members notifying them that Clemson will review the “free speech zones” policies and that in the interim, the entire Clemson campus is open to free expression. The following day, DiSabatino wrote to Davis to inform him that she was “removing the admonition and censure sanctions placed on Clemson Conservatives and directing the Office of Student Conduct to destroy the file related to this discipline case.”
While we applaud Clemson administrators’ abandonment of the “free speech zones,” we did find it odd that DiSabatino implied in her November 17 letter to Davis that she was unaware that the students disagreed with the “free speech zone” policy. She wrote,
Andrew, as I understand it your email is the first request from Clemson Conservatives regarding changing the policy and removing the sanctions. In the future, if you want FIRE or any other outside group to speak on your behalf, please make this known to me in writing. That way I will be clear on your intentions.
Does DiSabatino really expect that even though the Conservatives had already been turned into criminals for exercising their constitutional right to protest peaceably, all they had to do was ask her to remove the sanctions and abandon the relevant policies, and the school would have complied? And why should students on a public campus have to inform the school’s administrators that they are seeking help from an outside organization—especially if that help takes the form of protection from disciplinary action by those very administrators?
Nonetheless, FIRE is just tickled that Clemson decided to give up its “free speech zones.”